Sunday, 24 January 2016

4th Happy Habit - Attention Training

Today we will discuss about the 4th task called attention training or Mindfulness...

The best way to describe mindfulness is when the brain is focused on the immediate experience rather than on distracting thoughts that are either irrelevant such as “What am I cooking for dinner tonight?” or may be future-oriented worries such as “What if I blow it in the presentation tomorrow?” or past-oriented critiques such as “That was stupid. Why did I say that?” In fact, mindfulness takes us away from these types of demands or criticisms. The present-oriented focus tends to be more attractive to the brain even if the present moment isn't particularly pleasant. Therefore, as we practice mindfulness the brain will choose to be in the state of mindfulness more frequent

For example, if I'm running late in the morning I can try to speed up my morning routine and focus on demanding thoughts “I'm late! I've got to hurry!.” However, I've found that this approach not only doesn't seem to make me any faster, but it stresses me and is likely to slow me down because the lack of focus causes me to misplace things or drop things and I end up spinning in circles. However, a mindful approach is to acknowledge the demanding thoughts without getting caught up in them. Instead, I can tell myself “Just focus on what you're doing. Don't worry about the time.” As a result, I'm less stressed and probably got ready as quickly as I was able.

A simple method I like to use to help people get started with mindfulness practice is to tell yourself “For the next couple of minutes I'm going to focus on being mindful.” The nice thing about this exercise is that you can do it anytime, anywhere so the common excuse of “I don't have time to relax” isn't applicable. When you are in a state of mindfulness you are actually more aware and able to engage in tasks so you can do this while driving, while having a conversation, while waiting in line, while working, or anything else you do in the course of your day. All you do is take a couple of minutes and focus completely on your immediate experience, what you see, hear, taste, smell, or feel.

The reason I tell people to start with a couple minutes is because the practice of mindfulness can be quite difficult at first. Within 5-10 seconds of starting the exercise you are likely to be distracted by your usual future-oriented demands/ worries or your past-oriented critiques. That's okay. In fact, that's even desired because it gives you the opportunity to practice the second (and I think, the most important) part of mindfulness which is learning how to acknowledge your thoughts but refocus on your immediate experience. It's sort of saying to yourself although you don't have to actually use words, “That's okay, but right now I'm focusing on this.” Initially, you may have to do that many times during a two minute practice. That's okay and normal. Try not to get frustrated because frustration interferes with mindfulness since you are now thinking of you frustration rather than the object of your focus. Instead, very gently refocus your mind.

Although you only do this for a couple of minutes at a time, I encourage people to practice the technique many times throughout the day. The more you practice, the more your brain will become receptive and accustomed to mindfulness and you will notice your brain returning to a mindful state on its own. Therefore, the idea is not about achieving mindfulness, but just practicing it and then letting your brain do the rest.

You sure must have experienced mindfulness state naturally too when you would have seen a beautiful sunset for a few minutes and had no distracting thoughts and felt a sense of calm within. You can practice mindfulness to achieve this calmness for a longer duration and have a sharper focus on the work you do in the present moment.

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